Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kecak at Padang Tegal

I attended the nightly Kecak performance at the Pura Tamansari at Padang Tegal in Ubud last night.

This had the feel of a community eventm even if it is staged exclusively for tourists (without even a programme in Indonesian). The floor of the covered open-air hall where it was staged was marked for badminton. A little warung next to the hall sold cold Bintang beer, krupuk, packs of kacang bawang etc. The massive chorus of kecak dancers was in very close proximity to spectators seated in a U shape around the performance area (with the back of the U being a Balinese gate and stairs decorated with janur).

The half-clothed kecak chorus performed with great precision, and was of diverse ages, and if lacking in some of the enthusiasm of a chorus of young men had a great deal of intimacy. There were also quite a range of highly competent dancers (including one penasar each for Rama and Rahwana) in very fine costumes. The lighting - provided by live flame in the middle of the hall - was absolutely stunning. This kecak is associated with Walter Spies, but has obviously been regularly renewed and revamped. It was lovely to hear the Kawi of the Ramayana being chanted throughout, and also to hear the panasar interpret the noble characters into Balinese (even if nobody in the audience could understand Balinese!). A priest officiated - sprinkling performers with holy water before the show.

The Kecak was followed by a staged performance of Sanghyang Dedadi. The music (a chorus of men and another chorus of women) was quite moving-- and I was reminded again of how much the female choral singing resembles the female chorus of brai Bayalangu, clearly one of the most ancient forms of music in the archipelago. But the dancing was not inspired - with no clear differentiation between the dancing before and after the dancers went into 'trance.'

More exciting was the final item on the programme, the so-called fire dance, or sangyang jaran, in which a man on a hobbyhorse is possessed by a horse spirit and walks around in burning coconut husks, kicking them as he goes, making a tremendous effect with jumping sparks etc. It was quite thrilling to be so close to the intense heat of the pire of coconut husks (lit with kerosene) at the beginnnig of this number -- and while the dancing was not very interesting, the horse was nicely constructed and the movement well coordinated with the male chorus.

A fine evening performance - even if not quite long enough for my taste (only an hour in all).

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